SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Only Allen Iverson could deliver a Hall of Fame speech that name-checked ’90s rappers, referenced Chappelle’s Show, and thanked just about every person he met along his basketball journey.
Iverson, one of the headliners of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, delivered a captivating 31-minute speech Friday in which he overcame initial jitters to deliver a memorable address that featured multiple standing ovations from the crowd at Springfield’s Symphony Hall, with many in the balcony wearing No. 3 Iverson jerseys and cheering throughout his speech.
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In maybe the most memorable moment of the speech, Iverson recalled his first time playing against his idol Michael Jordan.
“Man, I wanted to be like Mike,” said Iverson. “I remember the first time I played against him. I walked out on the court and I looked at him. And, for the first time in my life, a human being didn’t really look real to me. You know what I mean? I don’t know if you all watch the Chappelle Show, but he talked about in a certain incident where somebody’s seeing Rick James. Like I literally seen his aura. It looked like he was glowing. I’m sitting there and I’m saying, ‘Man, that’s Michael. And I’m looking at him. I can’t stop looking at him. I’m looking at his shoes and I’m like, man, he’s got on the Jordans! It was my Mike. It was my idol, my hero.”
Iverson got a standing ovation before he could even be introduced prior to his speech. Dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and tie, he struggled to control his emotions at the start of his speech while thanking his three presenters — Larry Brown, Julius Erving, and John Thompson — as well as members of his family.
But after the Jordan story, Iverson seemed to settle in. Nervously rocking at the start of his speech, Iverson confidently thanked a rolodex of coaches, owners, teammates and rappers.
“I want to thank Biggie Smalls, Redman, Jadakiss, Tupac and Michael Jackson for being my theme music throughout my career,” said Iverson.
Twenty-two minutes into his speech, Iverson said, “The Philly fans,” which elicited a monster reaction from the balcony, which immediately engaged in an “MVP” chant.
Added Iverson: “My relationship with the fans in Philadelphia is like no other. I thank you all for the support over the years. … You never jumped off the bandwagon; continued to support me like true fans are supposed to.”
Iverson closed his speech with a nod to the “guys who are not my friends any more.”
“I’m glad that you blew your cover for me to recognize that you [weren’t] any good to my family or me. And I appreciate ya’ll for that. So if I make any more new friends, I know the signs,” he said in conclusion.
Yao Ming won the opening tip and delivered a heartfelt speech that showcased his sense of humor.
“When I heard that I was speaking first tonight, I thought that someone made a mistake,” said Ming. “I think this spot belongs to the great Allen Iverson. You want to know why? Because I need practice more than him.”
Flanked by presenters Bill Russell, Dikembe Mutombo, and Bill Walton, Ming joked about being confused when Cuttino Mobley invited him over for soul food (“I thought he meant ‘salty’ food) and thanked Rockets fans for sticking by him through injuries (“I am a Texan and a Houston Rocket for life.”) Ming also referenced his battles with fellow inductee Shaquille O’Neal by noting, ” Every game we played reminded me of the old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.'”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo made special mention of his players in attendance, including Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who heard some boos on the red carpet on his way into the event, but was cheered by the crowd when referenced by Izzo.
The induction ceremony also featured Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes. Videotaped acceptance speeches aired on behalf of Darrel Garretson (27-year NBA referee), Cumberland Posey (early African-American pioneer), John McClendon (coach) and Zelmo Beaty (member of ABA All-Time team).